Sexual Abuse in Adolescents Is Associated With Atypically Increased Responsiveness Within Regions Implicated in Self-Referential and Emotional Processing to Approaching Animate Threats

Karina S. Blair, Johannah Bashford-Largo, Niraj Shah, Jennie Lukoff, Jaimie Elowsky, Steven Vogel, Amanda Emmert, Ru Zhang, Matthew Dobbertin, Seth Pollak, James R. Blair

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Childhood sexual abuse is associated with significant subsequent pathology and neurodevelopmental disruption. In particular, childhood sexual abuse has been associated with heightened threat sensitivity. However, little work has directly investigated this issue. In this study, we examine the association of childhood sexual abuse to neural and behavioral responses to looming, threatening face stimuli. The study involved 23 adolescents with significant past sexual abuse and 24 comparison individuals matched on IQ, age, and sex. Participants were scanned during a looming threat task that involved negative and neutral, human faces and animals that appeared to either loom toward or recede from the participant. We found that adolescents who had been previously subjected to sexual abuse, relative to comparison adolescents, showed increased neural responses to threatening looming stimuli in regions including rostral and superior frontal gyrus as well as posterior cingulate gyrus. In addition, they were significantly more slowed by looming stimuli, particularly if these were human faces, than adolescents who had not been exposed. These data demonstrate that prior sexual abuse was associated with heightened neural responsiveness to looming threats in a series of regions beyond the amygdala. These data are interpreted within models of rostromedial frontal and posterior cingulate cortices that stress their role in self-referential emotional processing and emotional maintenance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number345
JournalFrontiers in Psychiatry
Volume11
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 16 2020

Keywords

  • adolescents
  • childhood sexual abuse
  • functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)
  • looming threat
  • threat responsiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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